Storage areas could be option for moving Unicoi County jail offices

Brad Hicks • Jan 25, 2013 at 7:21 PM

ERWIN — A couple of additional options have presented themselves as potential destinations for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s administrative offices and the county’s emergency dispatch center, and county officials want the feasibility of these options studied.

On Friday afternoon, the Unicoi County Commission’s Building and Grounds Committee met at the Unicoi County Jail Annex to take a closer look at two storage areas attached to the annex that could house the administrative offices and 911 center.

At its regular meeting Monday, the County Commission will consider a prior recommendation from the committee to hire engineering firm Tysinger, Hampton and Partners to complete a feasibility study, looking at various components of moving the administrative offices and 911 center to the annex.

This recommendation is the result of a Building and Grounds Committee held last week at the jail annex in which the committee recommended the county hire Tysinger, Hampton and Partners to study the feasibility and costs associated with renovating the front portion and using an unfinished rear portion of the jail annex to house the offices and dispatch center. The committee also recommended that engineering firm study the feasibility of building onto the front of the annex to house the offices.

If the measure is approved, the study carried out by Tysinger, Hampton and Partners will not only include the recommendations made last week, but will also look at the feasibility of using the storage sheds.

“The more information you’ve got, the more intelligent decision, in theory, you can make,” County Commissioner and Building and Grounds Committee member Doug Bowman said.

Bowman said the “priority” among the options now available is a storage building used by MedicOne Medical Response, the county’s ambulance service. Bowman said officials want Tysinger, Hampton and Partners to evaluate whether the 2,000 square-foot shed could be used to house the administrative offices and dispatch center.

If this area could be used and officials opt to move the offices and dispatch center there, the ambulance equipment stored there could be moved to the adjoining storage area, Bowman said.

This second storage shed is also an option, and the engineering firm will be asked to look at the feasibility of using a portion of it, as well as part of the other storage area, to house the offices and dispatch center.

Sheriff Mike Hensley said the reason officials must look at available options for moving his department’s offices and the 911 center is due to water leaking from the Unicoi County Jail.

At a September meeting of the county’s emergency communications district board, Hensley said the roof of the county’s jail, located in downtown Erwin and directly above the UCSD administrative offices and 911 center, is prone to leaking. He said this water, as well as water that comes from inmates stopping up drains and flooding commodes in the jail, finds its way to the offices below.

Hensley has voiced concern this could be a health hazard for those working in the offices. He has also said a state-mandated upgrade to the county’s 911 equipment must be in place by mid-year, leading to concerns that water leaking from above could damage the new equipment. This, Hensley said, has put the county “under the gun” to find a quick solution. Hensley has also said it is imperative his department’s offices and the dispatch center remain as close as possible.

Earlier this month, Tysinger, Hampton and Partners was hired to complete an environmental study on the UCSD administrative offices and 911 dispatch center, which includes looking for the existence of mold and bacteria. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the results of that study will likely be discussed at Monday’s meeting.

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